In North Dakota's Oil and Gas Country, the Air's Just Fine

Monday, 02 Jun 2014 07:27 PM

By Rob Port, Watchdog.org

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The Environmental Protection Agency has announced emissions rules for power plants that President Barack Obama says are needed to protect the health of Americans.

But in North Dakota, where the rapid pace of oil development exists alongside what industry sources say is an 800-year supply of lignite coal, that argument doesn't seem to match the facts on the ground.

The proposed EPA rules announced Monday would require power plants to cut emissions by 30 percent by 2030. The cuts would be implemented in 2016 after a one-year public-comment period.

"We don't have to choose between the health of our economy and the health of our children," Obama said of the rules in his weekly address, released Saturday. "As president and as a parent, I refuse to condemn our children to a planet that's beyond fixing."

In North Dakota, however, fossil fuel energy development seems to have had little impact on air quality. According to the American Lung Association's 2014 State of the Air report, the state gets a top grade for air quality, specifically in counties with intense fossil fuel energy development.

Every county in the state measured by the ALA got an "A" grade, including Billings, Burke, Dunn, and McKenzie counties, where oil production and natural gas flaring have made national headlines. Two more counties, Mercer and Oliver, are home to five coal-fired power plants.

The coal industry in North Dakota warns that new EPA regulations could hurt the state's economy and the power grid.

"Demand for electrical power in North Dakota is expected to increase by 208 percent over the next 20 years," said Jason Bohrer, president of the Lignite Energy Council. "Our lignite coal reserves provide approximately 80 percent of the power within North Dakota, as well as 2 million people throughout the Upper Midwest.

"Any regulations that would require unfeasible retrofits to continue operation of existing plants would greatly impact power reliability and our economy. Unreasonable regulations could lead to layoffs, higher unemployment, increased costs to consumers and depressed economic activity," Bohrer said.

North Dakota Public Service Commissioner Randy Christmann told Watchdog previously that these new rules were restricting the development of new power plants even before they were announced.

"Nothing is in the planning stages for new coal plants," Christmann said in January, suggesting the EPA is "threatening" the state's power grid.


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